Nationals anti-CSG stance now 'set in stone', Page MP says
UPDATE 7.15pm: PAGE MP Kevin Hogan says the Nationals' policy to buy back or cancel all CSG licences on the Northern Rivers is set in stone, despite the proposal not being endorsed at the party's national conference.
Hours of rigorous debate ensued when Deputy Premier Troy Grant took the policy to the party's executive yesterday.
The party was split and the decision to vote on whether to adopt the plan was cancelled at the last minute when Lismore MP Thomas George argued it was already the party's policy.
"Troy Grant announced it as our policy (in the morning) so there was no need for a debate," Mr Hogan said.
"That's what we decided - there's no point debating it because it is already our policy."
And no debate meant it could not be voted down, which was looking like a very real possibility at the time.
- APN NEWSDESK
UPDATE 5.30pm: DEPUTY Premier Troy Grant's call to ban coal seam gas in the Northern Rivers has fizzled into oblivion.
The Nationals Leader announced he wanted the government to buy back or cancel all seven active CSG licences in the region ahead of the party's national conference in the Hunter Valley on Friday.
"I support the views of regional communities and it has been made very clear that the Northern Rivers community does not want CSG," Mr Grant said.
The policy back-flip looked promising for anti-CSG activists, but the proposal soon fell to tatters.
Despite their leader's push, a majority of Nationals MPs voted against the proposal going to a ballot following an hour of fierce debate.
Legislative Council member Ben Franklin told the conference the party could wipe itself out on the North Coast unless it banned CSG.
"We need to get over this hurdle. We could lose the seats on the Northern Rivers for a generation," he said.
Other MPs successfully argued the state would go broke if the government had to buy back all the licences.
Federal Member for Page Kevin Hogan had thrown his support behind the push, alongside Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis.
But Mr George argued the stance already reflected the party's policy - a view endorsed by a majority of his cohorts.
It was a kick in the guts to campaigners like Lock the Gate spokeswoman Georgina Woods, who had hoped the conference would allow the Nats to "acknowledge that widespread opposition to unconventional gas warrants meaningful policy change from the government."
The policy change had the potential to cause a rift with the Liberals, with Premier Mike Baird refusing to say whether his party would back up the Nationals' position.
3:00 PM: National Party to give CSG verdict at conference today
A DECISION on whether the NSW National Party will officially adopt a stance of no-CSG on the Northern Rivers is expected this afternoon.
The party's national conference is being held in the Hunter Valley, with Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis due to raise the issue for a vote this afternoon.
Northern NSW MPs Thomas George and Geoff Provest are expected to vote alongside Mr Gulaptis in favour of buying back all seven current CSG licences active in the region.
All three endorsed the plan in a joint media statement in November, along with now-retired Ballina MP Don Page, but failed to affect the party's policy going into the March election.
Premier Mike Baird has still not indicated whether the Liberals back up the Nationals' decision this afternoon.
Lock the Gate Alliance spokeswoman Georgina Woods said swings against the Nationals in the State Election, and the loss of the seat of Ballina to the Greens, showed voter sentiment was clearly on the side of a CSG ban.
"The NSW election sent the Nationals a clear message - protect the community or risk losing previously stalwart seats like Ballina and Lismore," Ms Woods said.
"It's a great step forward for members of the NSW National Party to acknowledge that widespread opposition to unconventional gas warrants meaningful policy change from the government."
But not everyone backs the move.
A rank-and-file Nationals member, who wished to remain anonymous, contacted APN to say Mr Gulaptis's decision to put the issue to a vote showed contempt for his electorate.
The person argued the Nationals were voted in on pro-CSG gas plan - not a gas ban - and that such a monumental shift to party policy should have been put to voters before the election.
12:30 PM: Nationals want to buy back licences, ban mining in region
PAGE MP Kevin Hogan has welcomed comments by NSW Deputy Premier and NSW National Party leader Troy Grant calling for a CSG-Free Northern Rivers.
Mr Grant has told the NSW National Party conference today the seven current Northern Rivers mining licences should be reduced to zero through the Coalition's buyback scheme.
"I support the view of regional communities and it has been made very clear that the Northern Rivers community does not want CSG," Mr Grant said.
Mr Hogan, who was the first National's MP to oppose CSG in the Northern Rivers, has consistently spoken out about the impact CSG would have in his community.
INITIAL REPORT: PLANS by the Nationals to buy back CSG licences and ban mining on the Northern Rivers looks set to face some major challenges.
Deputy Premier and Nationals leader Troy Grant has proposed buying back seven current Northern Rivers mining licences.
But the Premier Mike Baird has refused to say whether he will back the proposal and the main active CSG player on the Northern Rivers, Metgasco, is also opposed to the idea.
The Nationals faced a huge swing against them at the recent NSW election which was seen as a referendum on CSG.
They lost the previously safe seat of Ballina and had a huge swing against them in Lismore.
While the potential buyback of CSG licences is not a done deal yet, anti-CSG groups have welcomed the news.
After tireless work over four years by the community in the Northern Rivers we are overjoyed to see that Deputy
Premier Troy Grant has heard the communities concern and is ready to help protect them from the threat of unconventional gas," said Gasfield Free Northern Rivers spokesperson Dean Draper.
"Deputy Troy Grant joins National Party MLC Ben Franklin and Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis in his opposition to coal seam gas in the Northern Rivers. Earlier this month Mr Franklin promised to present a motion to the National Party Conference that would help deliver a gasfield free Northern Rivers.
"The National Party Conference coming up this weekend is a perfect opportunity for the Party to demonstrate that they will listen and act on the concerns of farmers and landholders by making the Northern Rivers 'gasfield free'" he said.